What makes Sickhouse intriguing is that the film was initially released as a series of Snapchats. While experimenting with different media for different platforms is not a new idea - in fact, at one point, experimenting audible dialogue was considered controversial - the traditional horror genre has always been something driven by a certain aesthetic: imagery, music, characters, and ultimate suspension of disbelief. We tend to associate horror with something visually scary. Even non-horror films that have suspenseful or heart-skipping moments are still primarily image driven within the traditional horror context.
Horror has always been a fairly low-budget endeavor because the genre can throw together a cast of new actors and actresses, and build a brand on sensory inputs (sounds, images, color, etc) rather than sensory outputs (acting, dialogue, etc). This makes new media platforms like Snapchat inherently perfect for not only distributing scary things, but also for marketing and advertising full-length content.
Here's what Indigenous Media realized about the benefits of Snapchat as a film making tool:
User buy-in. The user must directly engage in the experience by opening up the Snapchat.
Time expectations. The user knows either precisely or instinctively how much time that Snapchat will take to consume.
Blasting without overload. Snapchats, for now at least, are fun. There is no preview, thus making them a "surprise" for each viewer. You can blast Snapchats without the visual overload that occurs when scrolling through explicit content (Instagram).
Take it Personally. A mass content post has its place. But movies and media are typically very intimate for individual consumers. Each Snapchat feels much more personal than a content feed.
Sickhouse certainly knew how to leverage these features of Snapchat to make a fun, interactive, and personal experience for its entire user base. If the film acquired new Snapchat users throughout the course of the distribution, those new users received all future content updates, but probably wont mind shelling out the $5.99 to see what they have missed prior to joining the Snapchat channel. This sort of goes against the typical Hollywood grain, where showing too much in the trailers can lead to unexpected fluctuations at the box office.
Will this work for every movie genre? No. Nor should it. Comedy is a completely different beast than horror, primarily because it relies on writing, acting, and nuance to get an audience to laugh. While laughter is certainly primal, horror is ancient. Horror is a genre where you can be deprived of your senses and still feel that uneasy feeling in your stomach so as long as you can see or hear. In fact, being deprived of ones senses can actually make an experience more terrifying (think pitch black haunted house).
Horror for me is something where, at 3:00 AM, if I happen to see a picture from The Exorcist, I have a thirty-second delay falling asleep.
Sickhouse shows that horror is just as much about the experience as it is the looks, sounds, and mood. My experience watching The Shining for the first time is etched in my memory forever: 9 years old, midnight, lights off, everyone asleep. It's experiences like that, which can be accomplished through the wonderful world of new media, which create interest in a brand.
Whether or not Sickhouse will be a good film remains to be seen. More than likely, despite appealing to a much more narrow audience, fans will still judge Sickhouse based on its quality, not necessarily its marketing and distribution strategies. Regardless, it's only a matter of time before integrated media strategies become more than just advertising platforms for media companies. Sickhouse is a step in the right direction towards that.
At the very least, I think we horror fans owe Indigenous Media a round of applause for pushing the boundary a bit further with horror, and being responsive towards changes in media consumption that other media companies have not yet picked up on.
If you were a part of the Sickhouse Snapchat experience, please comment below. I'd love to hear firsthand what you liked and disliked about the experience, and if you plan on buying the movie on Vimeo for the listed price of $5.99